According to Pliny the Elder, fenugreek can be used in at least 31 health remedies, including getting rid of dandruff, removing ringworm, and even to cure ‘the rank odours of the armpits’. But, having said that, it can add some pretty good flavours to food too!
WHERE IS IT FROM?
Fenugreek, (rigonella foenum-graecum) known in India as methi, is a member of the pea family, and is used as a herb, a vegetable, and a spice. The English name means ‘Greek Hay’, which is attributed to the fact that the Romans saw it as being so common in Greece that they fed it to their cattle, who, apparently, really liked the taste. It was indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean, and also possibly to India, and these days is cultivated mostly in India, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Turkey.
Fenugreek has been cultivated in Egypt since at least 1000 B.C.E., and was an ingredient in the incense used during the mummification process, and fenugreek seeds were even found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Early Egyptian papyrus scrolls also describe the extraction of the essential oils for cosmetic uses, saying that it beautified the skin and Hippocrates recommended it for its rejuvenating properties. Many of these ancient medical writers, Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and even Pliny, all mention many uses of fenugreek in remedies related to uterine conditions, and it was also given to women to promote lactation following childbirth.
The famous Lydia Pinkham, in the 1880s, also made a tonic containing fenugreek that was said to cure all ‘female complaints’, and help one conceive a child.
As mentioned above there have been many ancient and traditional uses for fenugreek include soothing digestion and assisting with weight loss.
A study on diabetic rats has shown a potential for fenugreek to reduce blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. There are many other studies reporting on the analgesic, antioxidant, and hypoglycemic properties.
Because of its many effects, especially as a uterine stimulant, pregnant and nursing women should consult their doctor before consuming fenugreek.
Fenugreek leaves are used fresh or dried, and while fenugreek seeds can be a little bitter if not roasted first, a little roasting brings out the sweetness. It is very common in Indian cuisine, as well as North African and Middle Eastern dishes. Its sweet, pungent flavour is used as an artificial maple syrup flavouring. It is also used to flavour cheese in Switzerland, flatbread in Egypt, and the ground up seeds are a coffee substitute in some North African countries.
If you want to try some fenugreek in your cooking, check out these recipes: